Over the Counter Culture Wiki
Jerry Garcia 1968

Jerry Garcia, born Jerome John Garcia, (August 1, 1942 - August 9, 1995) was an American singer and songwriter. He is best known for his role as leader guitarist and vocalist in the band the Grateful Dead, which he helped found.

Early Life[]

Garcia was born in San Francisco on August 1, 1942 to Jose Ramone “Joe” Garcia and Ruth Marie “Bobbie” (nee Clifford) Garcia. From a young age, he was exposed to music - his father was a retired professional musician.

During his young life, Garcia moved around a lot, even living with his grandparents for five years after his father’s death led his mother to buy out his partner in business for full possession of his bar. His mother eventually married again - a man named Wally Matusiewicz, who was also a musician. His mother also had the family move due to Garcia’s bad behavior in school, including picking fights and skipping classes.

In 1960, Garcia stole his mother’s car. As punishment he was sent to join the United State Army, where he served for nine months before being discharged for poor behavior. After a year of couch surfing and living in his car, on February 20, 1961, Garcia along with his acquaintances Paul Speegle, Lee Adams, and Alan Trist got into a car crash after Adams, the driver, hit a guardrail at 90 mph. Garcia was ejected from the car and received a broken collarbone. Adams and Trist received abdominal injuries and a fractured spine respectively after also being ejected from the vehicle. Speegle, who was not ejected, was fatally injured.

Garcia would later recount that moment as an awakening for him; “That's where my life began. Before then I was always living at less than capacity. I was idling. That was the slingshot for the rest of my life. It was like a second chance. Then I got serious”.

As Garcia became more involved with the San Francisco music scene, he became acquainted with his future band mates. In 1964, alongside Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Bob Weir, and others, Garcia formed a jug band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. That band eventually brought in Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann to become the Warlocks. However, they soon discovered that named was being used by another band (which would become the Velvet Underground). The band changed their name once more, this time to the Grateful Dead.

The Grateful Dead[]

The first show the band played under the name the Grateful Dead was one of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests. The band would become closely associated with the hippy counter culture, from which it attracted its legion of “Deadheads”.

Garcia was known for his eclectic guitar-playing that mixed bluegrass, early rock, contemporary blues, and jazz. He was also known for his long guitar improvisations filled with emotion that ensured a song was never played the same way twice.

For the thirty years that the band performed, Garcia was a permanent fixture. The band performed 2,314 live shows (about 77 a year) during their run. This near endless tour was broken up by complications from Garcia’s declining health. Smoking had affected his voice, he gained weight, developed diabetes, and heavily used drugs. But despite that, the band kept going until his death.

Side Projects[]

Even though the Grateful Dead never seemed to stop touring, Garcia had a number of side projects.

The Jerry Garcia band had a 20 year run from 1975-1995. From 1987-1988 the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band played.

In 1966, Garcia served as a producer for Jefferson Airplane’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow, though he was created as a “musical and spiritual advisor”. He’d served a similar role for a number of other musicians, including Tom Fogerty and Bob Dylan.

Garcia would also play with other bands such as the Black Mountain Boys, Legion of Mary, and Reconstruction. He also would play with jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman, and lend his pedal steel guitar playing skills to New Riders of the Purple Sage, Cross, Stills, Nash, & Young, and Brewer & Shipley.

In the late 1980’s Garcia began a second career in visual arts, a passion he’d had when he was younger but gave up for music.

Personal Life[]

Garcia met his first wife, Sara Ruppenthal Garcia, in 1963. They married in April of that year and had their daughter Heather in December.

In 1966, Carolyn Adams, known as “Mountain Girl”, a Merry Prankster and wife of fellow Prankster George Walker,moved in with Garcia, bringing along with her her and Kesey’s daughter Sunshine. Garcia and Sara divorced in 1967. In 1970, Adams gave birth to Garcia’s second daughter, Annabelle Walker Garcia. In 1974, she had Garcia’s third daughter, Theresa Adams “Trixie” Garcia.

That same year Garcia became involved with Deborah Koons, who he left Adams for in 1975. In 1977 that relationship ended and Garcia briefly reconciled with Adams. However Adams, upset with Garcia’s drug use, moved to Eugene, Oregon (near Kesey) in 1978.

In 1980-1, Garcia had a brief affair with Amy Moore.

In 1981, Garcia and Adams married, mostly for tax reasons. Adams remained in Oregon while Garcia lived in San Rafael, California with a number of housemates. They reunited briefly after Garcia’s diabetic coma, but ultimately divorced in 1994.

In 1987, Garcia married Manasha Matheson (who he’d met in 1978) in a spiritual ceremony. They had a daughter, Keelin Noel Garcia, that same year.

In 1993, Garcia connected Barbara “Brigid” Meier, a girlfriend from the early 1960’s. He engaged to her shortly after their reconnection. This affair marked the end of his relationship with Manasha and family life with Keelin. However, a mere few months after his proposal, he broke up with Meier.

That year he reconnected with Koons, and married her in 1994.

Garcia began using LSD shortly before the Grateful Dead’s conception. He would struggle with drug use for the rest of his life. By 1983, with his declining health, his on stage performances would switch between passionate and disengaged, based on how he was feeling on that particular day. In 1985 the band held an intervention for his heroin use, demanding he get clean or leave the band. Garcia was fully clean by 1986. However that year in July he would go into a diabetic coma for five days. In 1991, exhausted from five straight years of touring, Garcia returned to heroin use. The band quickly held a second intervention. The band took the rest of the year off and Garcia once again got clean. After their 1992 comeback tour he became sick. He worked hard to become healthy again, losing weight, reducing his smoking, and losing weight, but his pain led him to use narcotics. By 1995 other band members frequently had to remind him what song they were playing. In July of that year he checked himself into the Betty Ford Center, and after that the Serenity Knolls treatment center.


On August 9, 1995, Garcia was found dead in his room at a rehabilitation clinic in Forest Knolls, California. The cause of death was a heart attack. Garcia had a long history of drug addiction, weight problems, diabetes, sleep apnea, and heavy smoking, which led to his death.

His funeral was held on August 12 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Belvedere. It was attended by the remaining members of the Grateful Dead and friends. Koons barred Garcia’s former wives from attending.

A public funeral was held on August 13 at the Polo Fields of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Attendance was around 25,000.

Garcia’s ashes were spread in the San Francisco Bay and in the Ganges River in Rishikesh, India.